A magician seeking publicity had himself strapped into a straitjacket and hung upside down off the roof of a building where 50,000 people watched him escape and return to safety. That magician was Harry Houdini, and he did the stunt in 1916. Another magician seeking publicity had himself locked into a glass box and hung for 44 days from a spot next to the Tower of London Bridge where everyone could see him starve. That magician was David Blaine, and he did the stunt in 2003.

Publicity stunts are as old as humans who battled on mammoths to show off, and they are as young as a starlet seeking coverage in famous magazines. They are an effective form of message delivery when integrated with concepts being communicated, and every PR practitioner should be familiar with them. One of the interesting and trending publicity stunts is the flash mob. A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, and then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Check these movies for examples of flash mob - Friend with benefit and Step up revolution.

Publicity stunts have been a business even before P.T. Barnum who supposedly said, “The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.” Stunts cover many feats and exercises in bunkum. For example: Walking on tightrope between the World Trade Towers; Roaming streets in the costume of a cartoon character; Using celebrity look-alikes; Dressing a CEO in an absurd costume as Sam Walton of Wal-Mart and Richard Branson of Virgin both did.

The challenge of any publicity stunt is to preserve the message contained within it. This is not easy. For example, why did a famous television comedian walk around Columbus Circle in New York handing out $50 bills to passersby with certain first names? I happen to remember why this stunt was done but it failed to promote the Internet Bank that sponsored it (and subsequently failed as a bank).

In subsequent editions, we will look at the challenges involved in creating publicity stunts where the message is integral rather than buried.